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Month: July 2022

Build the game thinking in system

Making video games is hard and it has a cost. That is why often we feel the need of building an universal system, capable of letting us creating more games in less time.

Players, instead, purchase and play video games for the experience that game has to offer. They usually do not think in systems, also if they are capable of understand what is similar to other games.

To me the best approach is to make a video game. The best is to focus on a concrete platform and a concrete experience having a great vision. Then if that system is designed to be custom, that is great for the production of next games, of course. But the priority is on the game itself, not on the system you are building.

If you think just in the system, I have to tell you, maybe you are not believing too much in your game. Which is completely normal, you should rely on data and results to believe in it from a business point of view. But from the creative point of view you should also notice that little spark waiting to become the next big IP.

Have a nice summer folks, this is the last post before of my vacations. See you soon!

The power of asking

I notice a tendency of show off everything on social networks instead than asking for help. Especially from Gen Z, I see that many times they are worried more with their personal brands that with building meaningful relationships. The few of them who ask will receive.

There was a moment in my career in which I found myself alone, without a job and thinking seriously of leaving the industry. Naturally, I started to speak with every friend regarding this. Also with new employers. I worked as waiter and as data scientist, always thinking in making video games someday. I also started a blog in Spanish in order to make myself visible, but there was a single activity which I was committed: asking.

I asked everyone I could for help. Most people will try their best, believe me. Asking is way more useful that put a screenshot of a Unity session on LinkedIn saying “first trials with new video pipeline!”. That is not useful at all, there is no polish in what you’are publishing and it’s only noise. Ask instead something to some expert of your field. Ask them everything you can, on all channels you can. Use comments but also DMs. Ask and insist asking for help. Ask is so powerful!

FTUE, tutorial, onboarding

The first time user experience, or FTUE, is a mandatory thing to design for every videogame. Your players are going to have their first time experience, that’s for sure. So that if you leave that to the faith, that first experience will be completely random. For free to play, first time experience is made of tutorial and onboarding.

The tutorial is usually between 3 and 15 minutes and, step by step, all the most important features of the game are revealed to the Players. In order to design the best tutorial, you should look deeply at the theme of your game and at what are you proud of. If we analyze successful games like RAID: Shadow Legends and Dislyte, we notice that the first one puts all the value in the beautiful heroes you can unlock with gachas. The latter, instead, is very proud of its lore. They both work, the important thing is to really understand all kind of players you may want to serve and like them. If you really like your players, I mean as persons, you will definitely design the best tutorial for them.

The onboarding is usually made by the first 2-5 sessions and it’s the stage in which engaged players will fall in love literally with your game. The Players will discover all the systems of your games, and unlock the first things. They will feel they can grow if they stay with you. In order to design the best onboardings, you should focus on the Players’ motivations and try to bring them values around that.

Things don’t work from the very first iterations, so it’s better to make small iterations and improve step by step your tutorial first and your onboarding second.

NFTs can create scarcity and exclusion

When I started playing online, I did it with a pirate version of Diablo. With my 56k modem, I connected to the official server with a cheater character. Re_del_male was his name (King of Evil, in Italian). I joined the clan Apocalypse Knights. I spent hours playing with them, exploring dungeons and stuff.

Next online experience was an Italian shard for Ultima Online. I joined with real life friends, we were orcs. I learnt to use bots to farm and mine while chatting with my friends deciding what to raid next. Also there it was completely free, we just had to purchase the game.

All those experiences were about inclusion and lot of things to do. There were scarcity for some resources, and someone made friends with the game masters in order to get more things, such as land and castles. They had to demonstrate first to them that they were active players. The scarcity frustration was compensated by active participation and will to contribute to the game.

Nowadays, the most similar game to this concept is Minecraft. Mojang stated yesterday that they are not willing to include NFTs, because of the following reasons:

In our Minecraft Usage Guidelines, we outline how a server owner can charge for access, and that all players should have access to the same functionality. We have these rules to ensure that Minecraft remains a community where everyone has access to the same content. NFTs, however, can create models of scarcity and exclusion that conflict with our Guidelines and the spirit of Minecraft.

Love your manager

I want to design games at work. I love to do it and I put all my effort in it. I study everything in detail, I try to understand the problem, the context and also the competitor’s choices. Then I come up with a vision for a new game or feature. And the politics start!

Usually, I work for managers: product managers or producers. Many times they come with a lot of ideas already regarding what to do and what not. So that it’s important to understand well those ideas first, because anything out of those ideas is really hard to get approved.

I would love to not having to deal with politics, not having to defend my work always. Sadly, this is not possible in the company context. So that we should embrace it and love it. Love it by loving our teammates, first. This is very important: do you love your manager?

Love is an act of empathy and humbleness, in this case. You don’t love your manager as you love your wife, of course. Love is to really try to understand your manager and the vision and the background that brought to that vision. Love is to listen the reasons and be able to discard your own brilliant ideas in the name of theirs. Love is wanting your manager to shine, because if the manager has success, the whole team has it.

Deserving the position

A friend of mine, indie game developer, is trying to join the industry. He managed in a brilliant way getting his first interview. He study their game and made a feature proposal for them.

A few months ago, I sent my CV to the same company and for the same position. I have far more experience than my friend, still they rejected my application. He was smart and proactive. I didn’t, I just applied. He deserves that position!

Today he asked me for a way of preparing for his interview. I suggested him to get informed regarding the main KPIs, key performance indicators. Those are very important when you are giving the core of your service for free.

Then you have to study the company’s game and at least 2 competitors of the same game. Look on Game Refinery and Deconstructor of Fun for more depth on the genre.

This post is for my friend. He deserves the position!

Remote processes

I work remotely for companies since 2016, more or less. I am very specialized in game economies and UX, so that for them is easy to deal with my tasks and responsibilities.

Game development, instead, is never so easy. You cannot rely just on freelancers to build successful products that potentially may last years. You need a core team fully involved every day. And in order to keep it working properly, you need to set up the proper processes. Also the companies that state that they don’t believe in processes, end up setting up (scrappy) processes in the end. To me, it is better to embrace the process as part of the development. In my opinion, processes are very important.

In 2020 everything shifted online. Remote work was forced by the terrible situation of the pandemic. We had no time to prepare, we had to act fast. In a lot of cases, the same exact process employed before was translated to the asynchronous remote work. Some of the most “boring” things were also eliminated. In their place, nothing new was developed. The new process, then, was like Frankenstein.

Nowadays, many are arguing that we need to return to the office because is not the same online. They are right, online is not the same. But, are you sure you did your job, testing and iterating alternative processes?

The reality of giving games for free

You start a new project with your team, and you read that someone is getting rich with a f2p mobile game. There are people, called whales, that are willing to spend thousands of euros each month. You can be rich too! You have a great idea!

Then you find the right investors and you build your team. You study the market well, mitigate all risks and put your product in soft launch, after 2 years of development. Then you struggle with metrics. Day one, day seven, day thirty retention. Average revenue per user, lifetime value.

You spend two years more in development. Investors want to see their return on investment. Your team is tired, many of the original members are gone. And you fail.

Was you a disaster? No, you are just the regular situation. Read here:

I asked to this expert how to prove your KPIs potential early. He answered me that:

And I tell you: it is NOT easy all of that. First of all because when you are under pressure is super hard to admit that your KPIs are not promising to the investors. You need talented people, and that’s pretty uncommon.

Many of us feel that F2P is dominated by white collar people full of money and addicted “users” that cannot stop play. The reality is super different. The reality is that 99.71% of projects fail. That’s the regular situation.

Everything is clear

You are at your desk, everything is clear in your mind. The new game mode should feature a new energy system which permits to spend energies in change of doing a whole set of special actions in your RPG. You can throw bolts, run away from fights, hit with a sword. All with this energy system.

Then the engineer writes you on Slack: hey, can you check this? You see that nobody understood the vision, so that check your documents. “Look, is all there!”. They didn’t read the comments under the flow, your document was too long to read. The leader of the project says it’s too late. And the leader starts imposing own design, without thinking too much. Discussions starts, but in the end the vision changes.

You update your documents.

Documents that no one, except from you and maybe QA, will read. Satisfied you will shut down your PC. And hope for the best.

The systems you need depend on the theme

Game theme is something that in f2p is not discussed too much. That’s a pity, in fact the art of game design is the craft of synthetizing a theme into a playful experience. All games have a theme. Also if you don’t think well on the theme of your game, your game will have a theme!

We often start by thinking in systems, directly. Specifically, we start from the economic system. But that is just one of the systems a game need. Also a f2p game, where the economic system is one of the most important.

Do this instead:

  1. Start with the theme: which is the theme of your game or the update of your game?
  2. Translate the theme to the genre: which genre is the new game/update?
  3. Think in all the systems needed to properly translate the theme into actual gameplay, according to the genre.